The Benefit of Not Being Seen

Posted on October 27, 2012


A skit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus from the late 1960’s was “How Not to be Seen.”  The concept was a mock public service announcement or instructional film offering strategies and some obvious benefits to not being seen (If you want to see the skit, it is available on youtube .  It is also included in the film, “And Now for Something Completely Different).  The piece opens with a nature scene in which the narrator asserts that there are 37 people hiding within the picture.  In the next seen, the narrator provides the name and address of the person who is “not seen” in the picture.  The person is then asked to stand up.  Upon standing up, he is shot.  The narrator then continues, “This demonstrates the benefit of not being seen.”  In the next scene when the narrator asks the person to stand up; he stays hidden.  The narration continues, “This is the first lesson of not being seen.  Do not stand up.”

Some partners in conflicted couples take this same stance in the relationship.  Conflicted couples are frequently beset by a negative cycle wherein one partner pursues and the other withdraws.  For pursuers, their part in the cycle is often a protest of feeling disconnected from their partner.  Though this is driven by a desire to be close and feel supported, it often presents as anger toward their partner.  For withdrawers, seeing a partner’s anger feels unsafe so they try to remain unseen.  Many have learned the benefit of not being seen.  “If I come out, you will shoot at me so I stay hidden.  You can yell all you want but I won’t come out.”  I am, of course, speaking figuratively.  No one is actually armed and the withdrawing partner is not physically hidden, but is emotionally hidden because his or her partner’s attempts at connection have come to feel like gunfire.  The benefit of not being seen is that I don’t get shot.

This is not pathological on the part of either partner.  Rather, this represents a failed attempt by both partners to have their attachment needs met.  Throughout our lives, we human beings need to know that we have someone to whom we matter, someone who will value us, who will be there to provide comfort and support when life is difficult (which it will be).  The negative cycle is driven from this need for connection and emotional safety.  It is also deceptive in that it causes one to see one’s partner as the problem in the relationship which is part of what makes it so insidious and damaging.  Further, pursuing partners usually don’t think, “I am protesting because I don’t feel connected to you.”  They think, “You are not there for me; I feel like I don’t matter to you.”  The withdrawing partner does not consciously think, “You are not safe.”  More likely, the thought is, “You are always mad at me; whatever I do is not good enough.”  Not being seen may feel safer in the moment, but over time leaves both partners feeling disconnected.  Trading closeness in marriage for temporary peace is not a good deal.  It leads to feelings of isolation.  Isolation is inherently traumatic for human beings.

The good news is that even couples who have spent years trapped in negative cycles can learn to defeat the cycle together and find emotional safety and closeness again.  It is generally helpful to have a therapist help guide the process.  It requires courage to take the risk of emotionally reaching for a partner from whom you have been disconnected for some time.  Marital therapy can create a safe and assisted environment in which to find connection again.

“I work with individuals, couples, and families to help develop secure connections
and craft manageable solutions.”

More information is available on my website  I am also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats

Scott Wood is a registered marriage and family therapist intern (IMF67385) and is supervised by Dr. Melinda Reinicke, Psychologist (Psy11011).